Surge in Private Clinics as Canadian Health System Struggles with Overcrowding

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Monica Giordano, a 74-year-old resident of Granby, Quebec, spent many agonizing months waiting for a phone call that never seemed to arrive. Akin to a beacon, it was supposed to signify the scheduling of her crucial hip-replacement surgery. Night after night, the relentless pain deprived her of much-needed sleep and severely impacted her mobility, ultimately pushing her into a corner of despair, where each day was spent in anticipation of that one phone call to break the shackles of her predicament. But that wasn’t to be.

Having suffered two years of torment, she was well over the original estimate of one to three months before her hip replacement surgery could be performed. Finally, Giordano decided to make a decisive intervention. The unbearable pain left her no other choice but to utilize her life savings for the much-awaited operation. Asserting her will, she decided it was more important to regain her mobility’s invaluable freedom than to hold onto the money saved over years.

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Unfortunately, Giordano wasn’t alone. Across Canada, many patients like her are finding themselves in an unnerving struggle against a healthcare system facing over-saturation. Strained by post-pandemic repercussions and staffing shortages, private clinics such as Clinic Duval in Laval, Quebec, have increasingly begun to cater to such patients. These private establishments conduct top orthopedic surgeries, including hip and knee replacements, annually at a cost of around $24,000.

According to the Canadian Orthopedic Association, it is estimated that more than 160,000 patients in Canada are awaiting orthopedic treatment as of the current year. The waiting time between seeing a specialist and receiving the surgery averages around 32.4 weeks, constituting the second-longest wait time for any surgery in Canada. In Quebec itself, nearly 3% of the practitioners, equating to about 641, have deserted the public system, indicating a significant increase compared to other provinces.

Dr. Pascal-Andre Venditolli, an orthopedic surgeon at Clinic Duval, cites the unrestricted working hours in the private sector as a reason he can assist more patients. In contrast, public hospitals place limitations on the number of hours surgeons can operate. Furthermore, there is also a rise in the number seeking family physicians at private clinics, with a sizable influx of individuals with pre-existing conditions that require urgent attention.

However, while this sea change is occurring, health advocacy groups raise concerns about the long-term sustainability of this shift towards private healthcare. They believe patients unable to afford care in private clinics may well face undue marginalization.

Dr. Bernard Ho, an emergency physician and executive vice-chair at Canadian Doctors for Medicare, articulates this predicament stating that a growing interest in private establishments may take away the provincial governments’ attention from rectifying the ongoing problems in the public healthcare system.

To ensure the best for all its citizens, he calls for a massive re-investment into the public health system to deal with issues such as surgery backlogs and staffing shortages, and he emphasizes the need to broaden coverage for prescription medications, dental care, and mental health services. The need for veteran nurses in emergency departments cannot be overstated either, highlighting the importance of retaining experienced nurses for the overall well-being of the public healthcare system.